NTSB investigator focuses on reducing drunken driving fatalities

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( Antion Downs, NTSB )
November 5, 2013

The annual number of highway fatalities attributed to alcohol impairment has been reduced by half during the past three decades, but drinking still accounts for about one-third of all vehicle deaths in the United States every year.

Hoping to cut back on the 10,000 deaths and 173,000 injuries linked each year to the use of alcohol, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) closely studied current state laws and policies, and recently made recommendations to all 50 states to “achieve meaningful reductions in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.”

This is where the NTSB’s Jana Price came into the picture. As a senior human performance investigator, Price led a year-long NTSB study that examined and identified a series of concrete steps to curb the carnage on the nation’s roadways.

“NTSB has a very tenured history of addressing alcohol-impaired driving. We wanted to revisit what has been done, reinvigorate the dialogue, and put alcohol and drug impaired driving on our most wanted list,” said Price.

To do this, Price convened a forum of stakeholders that included experts from the advocacy community, federal and state governments and academia to discuss the most effective countermeasures available.

Who is Jana Price?

POSITION: Senior Human Performance Investigator, National Transportation Safety Board

RESIDENCE: Washington, D.C.

AGE: 41

EDUCATION: University of Connecticut, Ph.D. and M.A. in human factors; University of Wisconsin, B.A. in psychology

AWARDS: National Transportation Safety Board Employee Peer Award (2010); Dr. John K. Lauber Award for Technical Achievement (2005); NASA Group Achievement Award, Investigation Organizer Team (2003); NASA Group Achievement Award, Columbia Accident Investigation Board Support Team (2003)

HOBBIES: Playing soccer, camping and traveling

VOLUNTEER WORK: Site Coordinator for local chapter of Girls on the Run

Price said the aim was to pinpoint strategies that would reach the broadest population and most likely be implemented.

The result of Price’s efforts was the report, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” which outlined a set of 19 safety recommendations.

The NTSB’s proposals include reducing the allowable blood-alcohol concentration for drivers to .05 percent or lower from the current .08 percent; increasing the use of high-visibility enforcement; developing and deploying in-vehicle detection technology; requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted offenders; improving use of administrative license actions; targeting and addressing repeat offenders; and reinforcing using innovative adjudication programs.

Rob Molloy, deputy director of the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety, credited Price for her willingness to take on the difficult problem of impaired driving and her ability to bring a collection of partners together to have a rich dialogue.

“Jana produced a comprehensive package that can bring about change and seriously reduce the number of impaired driving deaths on the road,” said Molloy.

Price has worked at the NTSB since 2001 investigating ways to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries. During her tenure, she has served as the human performance investigator on major motorcoach and truck accidents involving driver fatigue, distraction and medical issues. Her specialty has been on the problem of human fatigue.

“It is a hard problem for law enforcement and investigators like me to understand because unlike alcohol impairment, you can’t do a blood test to confirm,” said Price. “It is challenging to document the evidence and determine whether fatigue is a contributing factor to an accident.”

Some years ago, Price co-created a NTSB training course to help investigators examine fatigue issues in accident investigations. The two-day course teaches the methodology and investigative techniques that Price and her colleagues use to demonstrate whether fatigue is a factor in a crash.

Price, who has remained one of the instructors for nearly a decade, believes the course offers a service to other investigators by sharing knowledge gained by years of detailed NTSB investigations.

In her 12 years at the NTSB, Price said she has seen substantial industry changes to reduce transportation worker fatigue. However, she believes there is more work to be done.

“The work that I do allows me to make a difference because as an investigator, I can see first-hand the effects of conditions like fatigue and alcohol impairment,” Price said. “At the NTSB, I have the tools that I need as a researcher to shine a light on safety problems and the solutions that are needed to address and end those problems.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org to nominate a federal employee for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal and http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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